Breach of Contract Against Employer : A Case Study
Mrs Bryne was sacked as a human resources director of a drug company in January 2001, two months before giving birth. She had complained that male directors were paid more than female directors in the company. This was based on the fact that on promotion from human resources manager to director she had expected a pay rise in line with the other four directors. In fact, she was awarded a pay increase that brought her salary to £52,500.
All of the other directors, who were men, were earning more than £60,000 each. One such director, the finance director, had been given a 36.8% pay rise when he became a director, which meant that his pay was £65,000. Mrs. Bryne sent a memo to her boss highlighting the differences and was told that she ‘wanted too much too soon’ and that she should have ‘ignored what other people were earning.’
The ClaimMrs. Bryne brought her claim for breach of contract and for sexual discrimination because her boss made a comment that all women who were of child-bearing age should be sterilized. She was sacked after sending the memo and only given three months’ notice rather than the six months to which she was entitled under her contract. This resulted in her not being able to claim for unfair dismissal.
At the TribunalAnother employee confirmed the boss’s comment about female sterilisation, adding that she was told that if she wanted to progress in her career with the company it was best never to get pregnant. When Mrs. Bryne was recruited, the recruitment consultant was asked to find out whether she intended to start a family or not. She told the tribunal that she was shocked to be asked this question, which is not something that should be asked during the recruitment process or at all by an employer. The recruitment consultant told her that if she brought up the subject of having children, she should reassure her future employers that she was not planning on ‘running off and having millions of babies.’
The tribunal found that the way in which she had been dismissed after sending her boss the email about her salary did constitute unfair dismissal. This was because she would have been entitled to claim damages if she had been given the notice period that was contracted.
The boss in question stated that he liked to crack jokes and to make the working environment less serious. He did however state that he realised that the quip he had made in this instance had been severely off-key. He told the tribunal that he regretted making the remark, and said that it was ‘so grotesque that it could not actually be his opinion.
The Tribunal's FindingsMrs. Bryne’s sexual discrimination claim was dismissed at the employment tribunal. The tribunal chairman said that the comment made by the boss was just part of the humour that was used in the pharmaceutical industry, and that it did not constitute the boss’s view or that of the company. Mrs. Bryne was awarded damages for successfully proving breach of contract.
Although Mrs. Bryne’s sexual discrimination claim failed, she did receive an award of damages for the breach of contract by her employer.